What is Heavy Metal?

Question: What is Heavy Metal?


The term "heavy metal" appeared in the lyrics of "Born To Be Wild" by Steppenwolf in 1968. However, the term is mostly attributed to a writer named William Seward Burroughs. It is a type of rock music with the electric guitar as the main musical instrument.

Heavy metal is characterized as powerful and loud; the bass, drums and electric guitar evokes a sound that is aggressive.

The lyrics of heavy metal music can be difficult to understand at times because of the vocal technique used. Power chords that are distorted, memorable riffs and virtuoso guitar playing also differentiates this type of music.

The lyrics of heavy metal music often touch on themes that are controversial and provocative. This is the reason why, during the 1980s, heavy metal music was harshly criticized and accused of inciting crimes among its listeners.

Notable heavy metal artists or groups during the 1960s and 70s were: AC/DC, Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, Cream, Deep Purple, Jeff Beck Group, Jimi Hendrix, Judas Priest, Kiss, Led Zeppelin and Yardbirds.

By the end of the 1970s, heavy metal was briefly overshadowed by disco music, but it will once again regain popularity by the 1980s. Notable artists or groups during that time are: Def Leppard, Guns N' Roses, Iron Maiden, Poison, Saxon and Van Halen.

By the 1980s, other subtypes of heavy metal emerged, such as "glam metal," "death metal" and "trash metal." The emergence of these sub-genres, different sounds and new groups made it hard to define the real "heavy metal sound." Bands such as Bon Jovi, Guns N' Roses, Metallica, Nirvana and Whitesnake had a different sound but are still categorized as "metal."

These bands, and older bands such as Van Halen, enjoyed continued success during the 1990s even with the increasing popularity of rap music.

Music Sample:
Listen to "Paranoid" by Black Sabbath courtesy of YouTube.

More Information
For more information on this type of music, visit our Heavy Metal guide.